The benefits of drinking water have been well documented over the years and the importance of drinking water simply cannot be over-stated. However, when it comes to water, more is not always better.

Proper hydration is crucial if triathletes, or any other athlete for that matter want to perform at their best.

It doesn’t matter if you’re training or racing, drinking the proper amount to replace lost fluids is vital and the benefits of drinking water undeniable and a crucial component of athlete nutrition.

However, it still seems that there are many people out there who are quite lost when it comes to understanding the benefits of drinking water.

 benefits of drinking water   -water bottles in a row

Don't forget about water

It’s no wonder that it can be confusing because for years people were told to drink large amounts of water on a daily basis. Now there is a well-founded school of thought that endurance athletes may be over-doing it and drinking more is not the answer to realizing the full benefits of drinking water.

For years when it concerned the subject of fluid-intake, athletes were told to drink as much as they possibly could before long endurance training or events like marathon running.

Dehydration had to be avoided at all costs. This line of reasoning has been seriously altered over the past several years especially when it comes to very long endurance events like a marathon.

Marathoners discovered that the key to hydration was not just drinking as much as one could manage, but rather drinking appropriate amounts at the right time.

The same line of thought is now beginning to make sense to Ironman triathletes as well. It seems that endurance athletes of all types are beginning to realize the benefits of drinking water in a way that will help them the most when it comes to race day.


The dangers of hyponatremia or “drinking more than you’re using” is now front and center. Hyponatremia is defined at having abnormally low concentration of sodium in the blood.

Having too little sodium might possibly cause cells to malfunction, and extremely low sodium can be fatal. Excess water intake will flush sodium and other essential nutrients out of your body.

Some of the sign of hyponatremia are nausea, headache, muscle cramps, confusion and seizures. Medical help as soon as possible is imperative.

In a worst case scenario drinking far too much can lead to coma and even death. Hyponatremia often results from a very high fluid intake that has flushed far too much sodium out of the body. Basically, hyponatremia is what happens when the benefits of drinking water are taken too far.

The years of the “drinking lots of water mantra” that people heard for years is beginning to back-fire. It is pretty much the sole reason why hyponatremia has steadily become a problem in endurance events like marathons, ultra-marathons, and the Ironman Triathlon.

I for one could never understand this “drinking seven to eight glasses of water” rule that was being hyped to people for years. I don’t believe in my entire life that I have ever had that much water to drink in one day.

There was one exception. There was the time I tried to follow the rule and made every effort to gag down eight glasses of water one day.

I found it very unpleasant and not in any way enjoyable and I never did it again. At least I never did it on your average day at home but I did increase my water intake on ironman race day.

The problem was, I had no idea how much and when to drink and that is the key to the benefits of drinking water doing one them most good out on Ironman event day.

Over the years I have participated in over 35 marathons and 14 Ironman Triathlons and did mess up the hydration quite often, but it was more about drinking at the “wrong time” then drinking too much or too little.

According to a mayo clinic fitness specialist, endurance athletes used to drink enough to “stay ahead” of their thirst. As a result, they were drinking more that they were losing through sweating.

It is not about “staying ahead” of your thirst. The goal should be to keep the hydration of your body on an even keel regardless of the endurance event you are involved in.


This train of thought that weight loss can be achieved by drinking copious amounts of water has also become part of the problem.

Many novice triathletes who are getting started in the sport at mid-life might have a bit of weight they want to shed as part of their foray into triathlon.

This is great as it can only lead to better health and a greater sense of accomplishment and well-being. Perhaps they have heard somewhere that drinking lots along with training several times a week would speed up the weight loss.

However some people take it too far and go way over-board with drinking water because they are eager to believe that drinking lots of water will indeed speed up weight loss, and it can create problems.

Drinking copious amounts of water is not the answer to losing weight. However drinking water at the right time is crucial.


Of course athletes have to drink regularly–for example during a long race–to prevent dehydration, but the true benefits of drinking water are found in moderation and a well-thought out hydration plan when it comes to the big race.

This is especially true since triathlon became a popular sport and so many people messed up their triathlon hydration. First they would not drink enough, and then the next race they would over-compensate and drink too much. Most of these new triathletes were not realizing the real benefits of drinking water.

Of course you can’t allow yourself to become dehydrated as that brings on a whole new set of complications. The key is to keep your fluid-intake as close as possible to what you actually use, and maintain that balance for the duration of the event.

That seems to fall exactly in line with one of the best Ironman results I ever experienced. It was just one of those years when I must have hit the Triathlon hydration perfectly and was beginning to understand the benefits of drinking water in the right amounts and in the proper intervals.

“The International Marathon Medical Directors Association recommends that the optimum amount of fluid-intake is approximately 31 ounces per hour of sustained physical activity”.

It’s a delicate balance and in my earlier races I was screwing it up all the time. Like most people I messed up my Triathlon hydration by not drinking enough. Finally I hit is just right and it showed in how I felt and how I performed in an Ironman.

I used one full water bottle between aid stations on the bike. During the run all I took from the aid stations was one Styrofoam cup of water.

I had nothing to eat during the entire marathon and nothing else to drink except for that one cup of water at each aid station. Assuming the cup held around 5 ounces of water and the aid stations were 1 mile apart and I was running an 8:30 pace, my intake was pretty well right on 30 ounces per hour.

 benefits of drinking wate

bike water bottles

It doesn’t seem like much fluid-intake, but on that day it seemed perfectly balanced. My marathon time of 3:34 was my fastest run split ever and I never experienced any dehydration problems.

So I suppose I luckily hit right on the perfect balance and what I took in was what I was using. In effect I hit on the perfect formula for drinking water in an endurance event and enjoyed the full benefits of drinking water at the right time.

Replace the fluid you use shortly after you use it. No more no less. If you do it right, at the end of the day and at the end of your race, you will be at the same level of hydration as your were when the race began.


So, some things to remember if you are preparing for an Ironman Triathlon.

Begin hydrating your body in earnest about the Wednesday before a Sunday Ironman. This process of topping up your water stores should be done slowly over several days and not quickly the day before the race.

On about the Wednesday you should be carrying a water bottle around with you pretty well anywhere you go. Sip on it over the course of the next four days and avoid drinking half a water bottle at a time.

By taking your time, you will be allowing your body time to assimilate the water over a longer period of time and it is more likely to retain it.

Don’t forget that you will be in taper mode and will not be sweating as much and as a result will not be shedding lots of water through the sweating process and you body will be retaining it much easier.

If you are doing your pre-race hydrating properly your urine should begin to be “clear and copious” by late Friday or early Saturday. That means you are exactly where you want to be for race-day.

All you have to do at that point is maintain your hydration level until race morning. This is not the time to be drinking huge amounts of water. Up to this point you have done everything right.

On race morning try to avoid “over-hydrating” before the race start. All you really need is to sip on your water bottle in the hours before your race.

Remember, your water stores are now topped up and you will need to drink “very little” on race morning if you did everything right.

I don’t believe you should feel fluid sloshing around in your stomach. It really is counter-productive and you have enough to deal with when it comes to triathlon open water swimming.

You want to feel your best on race morning and if your hydrating is done properly leading up to the race you will realize the full benefits of drinking water.

Although the chances of dehydration are greater than the chances of suffering from drinking too much, both can lead to serious complications, so finding the proper fluid intake balance for both training and racing cannot be overstated.

It’s a fine line between dehydration and hyponatremia. Experimenting with your fluid intake will help you work out the benefits of drinking water for your particular needs.


You might also enjoy this article on Balanced Hydration for athletes.

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